Radiient Technologies Elara Compact 5 Speaker System 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems
Written by Andrew Robinson   
Friday, 01 September 2006

We’ve all sat and drooled over the pages of the latest industry mag at the sights and specifications of some master designer’s latest Herculean, not to mention expensive, efforts in speaker design. And why shouldn’t we? Often, these products represent what is the pinnacle of loudspeaker design, and while no trip to Everest is free, there are other mountains worth climbing, which are rewarding in their own right. Enter companies like Radiient and their new line, or should I say line-up, of speakers, starting with the Elara compact five-speaker system.

Founded by David Buuck, formerly of DVDO, and Jano Banks, the co-creator of HDMI, Radiient is out to prove that great sound and quality craftsmanship don’t necessarily have to come at a steep price. In fact, they’re out to change the way you look at, listen to and buy speakers altogether. This is why you’ll only find their products sold direct through their website, where they can offer potential customers the chance to become more educated about music and movie reproduction, as well as save a few bucks on purchases by eliminating the middle man. Throw in a 30-day money back guarantee, and making a purchase from Radiient may just be the easiest transaction in all of consumer electronics, period. At least, that’s Radiient’s goal and, with the introduction of several different speaker packages, they seem poised to prove it.

Retailing for a very obtainable $499.00 and available exclusively online, the Elara system is essentially a subwoofer/satellite combo, minus the subwoofer. Now, the Elara system isn’t one of those micro satellite/subwoofer combos you’re probably used to seeing in this price range. On the contrary, the Elara system is essentially four rather large bookshelf speakers mated with a matching center channel. While a subwoofer is recommended, and Radiient does recommended that you use one, in smaller rooms or for those of you who don’t like to rock the Kasbah, you may be okay with just the five speakers. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The main speakers in the Elara system have an attractive two-way design with a light maple finish and piano black faceplate that contains a single five-and-a-half-inch coaxial carbon fiber midbass driver/tweeter above a two-and-a-half-inch forward-firing port. The piano black faceplate, while extremely attractive, goes largely unseen due to the speaker’s fabric grille. Atop the main speaker enclosure rests a one-inch metallized silk dome tweeter with a B&W-like design. Another borrowed design element is the Elara’s tapering cabinet design which, when the speaker is viewed from above, gives it a sort of V shape. All in all, the main Elara speakers measure in at 14 inches high by 13-and-three-quarters inches wide by 11-and-three-quarters inches deep, weighing in at a respectable 17 pounds apiece. They are bi-wireable via two sets of gold-plated binding posts found on the speaker’s slender rear edge. The Elara mains have a reported frequency response of 50Hz-35kHz, with a sensitivity of 86dB into a rather benign eight-ohm load.

Moving on to the Elara center channel, I was greeted with more of the same. The styling is almost identical to the mains, with the exception of the top-mounted tweeter, which the center does not have. It’s a two-way design with matching four-and-a-half-inch carbon-fiber midbass drivers, mated with a two-inch silk dome tweeter mounted between the dual midbass drivers. The cabinet has the same fit and finish as the rest of the line, but doesn’t taper as much in the rear as the mains do. The overall dimensions are a little over seven-and-a-half inches tall by 17-and-three-quarters inches wide and 10-and-one-quarter inches deep. The Elara center tips the scales at 16 pounds and has a reported frequency response of 60Hz-20kHz into an eight-ohm load, with a sensitivity of 90dB. Unlike the Elara mains, the center channel is not bi-wireable. However, it does feature the same gold-plated five-way binding posts found in the rest of the Elara line.

Lastly, there are the surround speakers. The Elara surrounds are not traditional surrounds, in the sense that they are not bi-polar or wall-mountable. In fact, you could use the surround speakers as front speakers if you were so inclined. However, for the sake of this review, I used them solely as surround speakers, albeit directional ones. They are visually identical to the rest of the Elara line and look just like the mains, minus the top-mounted tweeter. The surrounds feature a single five-and-a-half inch carbon fiber coaxial tweeter/midbass driver mounted above the two-and-a-half inch forward-firing port. The one-inch silk dome tweeter rests in the center of the midbass driver, hence the coaxial configuration. They measure in at little over 14 inches high by eight-and-three-quarters inches wide and 12-and-a-half inches deep. They tip the scales at a respectable 16 pounds.

The Elara rears feature the same V-shaped cabinet as the mains and are bi-wireable. Just like the center channel, the Elara rears have the same reported frequency response of 60Hz-20kHz into the same eight-ohm load.

I went ahead and set up the Elara system in my newly-completed reference room. I placed the main speakers atop a pair of 24-inch Omni Mount speaker stands approximately three feet from the front wall and two-and-a-half feet away from the sidewalls. I then placed the center channel on top of an 18-inch Omni Mount stand and placed it square in the middle of the room three feet out from the front wall. The rears were placed on 36-inch Omni Mount stands and rested about a foot out from the sidewalls, in line with the main listening position. All five speakers were connected to a Parasound Halo A51 multi-channel amplifier (review forthcoming), with the processing falling to the matching Parasound Halo C1 controller (review forthcoming). I split the source duties between my Toshiba HD XA-1 HD DVD player and trusty Oppo up-sampling DVD player. The video duties fell into the capable hands of my Panasonic AE-900U LCD projector. All components and speakers were connected with Monster M Series cables, with all power filtering being handled by my reference Monster Power HTPS 7000 MKII.

If the Elaras were ever going to get a fair shake, it was going to be in this room. Hell, the speaker cables alone cost more then the speaker system’s asking price. I decided to utilize my current reference JBL L series subwoofer to round out the Elara’s low end. I understand the JBL L series sub might be a bit of overkill for a system like the Elara. However, it was already present in my room and calibrated, so I decided to throw caution to the wind and go for it.

Music and Movies
I kicked things off with an old pop favorite, Savage Garden’s self-titled debut (Columbia). On the opening track, “Moon and Back,” the beginning rumble was a bit light in the lower regions before I turned on the sub, which rounded things out nicely. Without the sub, the main speaker’s drivers began to crackle and break up, even at moderate volumes. This didn’t shock me. With my experiment over, I left the sub on for the duration of the review and continued listening. From Darren’s first breath and subsequent vocals, the Elara mains dished out one heck of a center image. It was rock solid and floated effortlessly in the space between the speakers. Several guests in my house thought for sure the center channel was playing. It wasn’t. Beyond their placement, Darren’s vocals were forward and stood out from the rest of the musical elements, which made the entire track a bit more energetic in feeling. Next, I focused my attention to the Elara’s top end. The cymbals were clear and had a fair amount of decay and air. However, they always sounded a bit reproduced, as opposed to tricking me into thinking they were the real thing. This wasn’t a huge surprise, given the Elara’s price bracket. When the track really gets going I found the Elara mains had a bit of a problem keeping pace. The guitars began to overtake the space, which caused the vocals to lose a bit of their clarity. Overall, the image became a bit cloudy and lost a little bit of the magic that I experienced earlier in the track. The treble too became a bit recessed and soft, which seemed to take a bit of detail out of the overall presentation. In terms of the soundstage, I found the Elara’s presentation to be very wide but not very deep, which caused the sound to abruptly stop at my room’s front wall.

Moving on to my favorite track, “I Want You,” I decided to go for the gusto and really crank the volume. At above-average yet not earth-shattering levels, Darren’s vocals again were front and center. However, at the slightly higher volume, the vocals were noticeably colored by the Elaras’ cabinet, which gave the overall presentation a bit of a hollow, wooden sound. Also, at higher volumes, bits of the sonic landscape, mainly the lower registers, seemed to bunch around the speakers themselves, breaking away from the rest of the musical elements ever so slightly. I did like the Elaras’ presentation of the drum solo. While my JBL sub picked up a lot of the slack, the Elara mains proved to be up to the task when it came to adding snap and punch to the depth of drum kit.

Next, I swapped out Savage Garden for Sarah McLachlan’s album entitled Remixed (Nettwerk). During the song “Fear,” the Elaras dished up an amazing performance, both sonically and spatially, of the track’s opening synthesizer. The Elaras didn’t rob the song of its rather driving rhythm and added a bit of extra zing and bounce, which made for an engaging performance, if not the most accurate one. I felt rather surrounded, given that I was only listening to two speakers – two bookshelf speakers, at that. Moving on to the track “Sweet Surrender,” the Elaras’ treble was near spot-on, so long as I kept the volume within reason. Beyond moderate volumes, the treble showed signs of strain and was prone to fizzle. However, this may have had more to do with the speaker’s build than the tweeter’s lack of ability, but more on that later. The cymbals maintained an appropriate balance of air and sparkle without sounding overly metallic or fake. McLachlan’s vocals stood out from the rest of the musical elements which, coupled with the Elaras’ dynamic capabilities, made for a much more in-your-face presentation; given the style of music, I found it to be a welcome interpretation. Lastly, I cued up the track “I Love You” and was greeted with probably the best performance the Elaras had dished out yet. Immediately, the size of the soundstage, width-wise, was downright shocking. However, there was a clear sonic gap between the phantom center and the left and right speakers. I played with the Elaras’ toe-in but wasn’t able to create a truly seamless arc of sound between the left and right channels and the center image. The bass was very tight, very controlled and punchy. The Elaras’ dynamic capabilities were very good and their ability to resolve all but the minutest details made for a truly engrossing musical experience.

Happy with my findings in stereo, I branched out to the DualDisc recording of Snow Patrol’s debut album, Final Straw (A&M Records). I skipped to the track “Chocolate” and found the Elaras much more suited for multi-channel fare, given their almost identical design across all five speakers. The vocals gained a bit more weight and warmth when compared to traditional two-channel music. Also, the treble took on a much more three-dimensional quality, gaining a bit more air and palpability with less overall grain and glare at higher volumes. However, due to the lack of an outboard tweeter, the center channel didn’t quite have the same refinement in the top end as the mains did. Switching to the track “Run,” the vocals were rich, dark and appropriately moody. The subtle xylophone track was extremely delicate and nimble. Guitars were beautifully reproduced though all five speakers, although at extreme volumes, they tended to retreat within the speakers themselves, breaking away from the rest of the musical spectrum. At the same volumes, the lower midrange did get the drivers to rattle a bit within the cabinet. I ended with the track “Somewhere the Clock is Ticking” and noticed that the bass guitars had tremendous detail and snap. However, there was a bit of a gap between my subwoofer’s bass and the Elaras’ lower extension that made them just a little light in their footing. Dynamically, all five speakers proved up to the task and there was less flattening spatially with the DualDisc’s increased resolution. As always, the Elaras’ vocal reproduction was superb, as was their ability to recreate the track’s more atmospheric elements.

I quickly shifted my focus to movies and cued up the Spielberg sci-fi hit “Minority Report” (DreamWorks), starring Tom Cruise. I was anxious to see if the smallish Elara system would prove up to the task when presented with my Panasonic AE-900U’s (review forthcoming) larger-than-life projected image. During the film’s opening action sequence, where Cruise and his men are racing against the clock to prevent a murder from actually taking place, the Elara system didn’t rob me of any enjoyment. Starting with the symphonic score that plays throughout the initial investigation, the Elaras maintained the proper balance between the orchestral elements and the film’s dialogue. The resolving power of the various elements, both natural and technological, made for a truly three-dimensional sonic landscape to go along with the projector’s rich image. When Cruise’s team finally arrived at the home of the would-be killer, their grand entrance through the house’s skylights was awe-inspiring. The Elaras’ treble was extremely detailed and capable of tracking the countless shards of raining glass and debris as they fell around the actors. Likewise, the lower midrange and bass were very taut and held their own when presented with the film’s many flying crafts and futuristic cars. During the scene involving Cruise’s character and the Pre-Crime detectives on jet packs, the Elara system was poised with a daunting task. Amidst the chaos and action, the dialogue remained focused and intelligible. Likewise, the sequence’s higher frequencies were free of harshness and glare. The lower midrange and subsequent bass tracks (minus the subwoofer) were a little light in the pants and just a touch flat dynamically. The surround sound performance was rather good and encircled me realistically with true three dimensional quality. Overall, the Elara system was engaging and enjoyable in its own right. Sure, I’ve heard better and more refined, but at the sub-five hundred dollar level, I was happy and a little surprised with what the Elaras were capable of.

I watched a barrage of films and listened to countless music CDs and found that the Elaras were nothing if not consistent. They won’t go low, and their top end isn’t the best, but what they do attempt to do, they do very well. They’re not jacks of all trades and if you throw them something they don’t like, for example, complex passages at above average or extreme volumes, they will simply back down. However, at reasonable volumes with all but the most demanding movies and music, these babies are capable of much more than I think their price tag would lead you to believe. Place them in a smaller room, like a second living room or bedroom, and you might very well achieve the sonic bliss you’ve been searching without breaking the bank.

The Downside
First and foremost, the Elara system is not a true 5.1-channel system. If you want any sort of real bass, you’re going to have to invest in a decent subwoofer. While the price of the Elara system may prove enticing, keep in mind that you will have to budget more for a sub and, while my JBL L series subwoofer proved to be a good match, there are other subs out there that will work just as well and fit within the realm of the Elara’s price bracket. My recommendation would be to pair the Elaras with a subwoofer from the likes of Outlaw or Definitive Technology. There are many options out there when it comes to subwoofers and I encourage you to look at them all before making your final decision.

Next, the Elaras are going to require stands of some sort. Five of ‘em. Sure, you could place them in a cabinet or on a low table or credenza. However, I found their off-axis response, especially in the treble, to be a bit more limited than some when placed at any but the appropriate heights. Experimentation is the name of the game. However, with the extra money in your budget, you can afford to take your time doing some research when buying the proper stands.

Lastly, there is the issue of the Elaras’ build quality. While extremely stylish, I found their construction to be the one of the largest causes of their sonic shortcomings. For starters, and after several discussions with the folks over at Radiient, I found the speakers’ binding posts to be largely responsible for the tweeter’s glare and the mid-bass driver’s rattle. The binding posts, while nicely constructed, were prone to loosening due to vibrations within the cabinet itself, which would result in lessened performance sonically. Granted, it was always an easy solve, but it was just a bit of a nuisance to have to continually check the grips on the binding posts every couple of days. Speaking of cabinet vibrations, I found that they could cause the speakers’ more decorative elements, mainly the shiny black pad on either side of the main’s outboard tweeter, to come loose and/or fall off altogether. I think if the cabinet’s internal bracing were given a once-over, it would alleviate a great many problems with the system itself and possibly catapult the Elara system from being merely good, given its cost, to being something truly great.

$499 for an almost complete 5.1 speaker system seems almost too good to be true. Well, yes and no. There’s no denying that the Elara system has many strong points. Its lively sonic character and relatively easygoing sound, regardless of source material, is sure to attract a slew of potential buyers. Throw in a décor-friendly look and relatively small stature and it will no doubt find its way into homes the world over. However, its lack of sure-footed bass and absolute sonic capabilities across the entire spectrum when played back at true reference levels may keep die-hard enthusiasts at bay. I’ve heard great speakers and I’ve heard bad speakers. While I would classify the Elaras as somewhere in between, they were nothing if not enjoyable, and that is what it’s all about. Trust your ears, do your homework and maybe, when the dust settles, you’ll find yourself listening to the Elara speaker system in your own home.
Manufacturer Radiient
Model Elara Compact 5 Speaker System
Reviewer Andrew Robinson

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